The Book of Ruth.
Evening Readings with Christian Girls.
THIS Divinely inspired Oriental story of ancient time, tells in figure, the natural degradation, the call by grace, the course and the destiny of Ruth, who was brought from the outcast's place of Gentile alienation, into nearness with God, and through union with her kinsman redeemer, Boaz, the mighty man of wealth; she was raised to royal favour, in the line through which Christ, the Hope of Israel, was to come (Matt. i. 5).
Dispensationally, we have here traced the typical story of the call of the Gentile into union with Christ, to share in His present wealth of grace, and be with Him in His coming glory. It is a typical story, telling of ruin by nature, and Redemption by grace, leading to present rest and relationship with Christ. It tells, too, the Gospel story of a heart won to, and a life-choice made for Christ, as is now exemplified in the believer, whose life and choice is for Him, of life-companionship with Him now, and to be with Him in eternal glory by and bye. There are seven individuals introduced to us in this little Book, all more or less connected with Ruth, the Moabitess, from whose names and history we may learn something of spiritual interest to each of us. May we seek to profit by the warnings or examples, that they set before us.
The two principal figures in the narrative are Elimelech, which signifies "My God is King," and Naomi, "Pleasant." In these, we may surely see the course and the sad experience of the backslider. In their two sons, Mahlon, which means "sick," and Chilion, "pining," we may see represented the worldling, who is sick and unsatisfied all his days, and who sinks into a grave in an unknown land, to be forgotten. In Orpah, which signifies "a fawn," we may learn the history of an awakened soul, aroused to think of eternal things, who by the influence of others, is for a time moved to make a start for better things, but who, when the hour comes to make the supreme life-choice, procrastinates, halts, and at last returns to the world and her old ways therein. This is a sad, but no uncommon case, but is often seen to-day. Ruth, which means "satisfied," is the pleasing figure of a heart won to Christ, a whole-hearted decision to be His, to cleave to Him, and to stedfastly follow Him through life unto "eternal glory" (1 Pet. v. 10). Boaz, (in Him is strength) is here a figure of Christ, the Redeemer, Lover, and Portion of His people, who wins their hearts, and leads them into His rest here, and will claim them to share in His resurrection-glory hereafter.
I. THE BACKSLIDER'S PATH AND ITS RESULTS.
Elimelech and Naomi, in the day of their trial, through famine in the land of Judah, in which the Name of Jehovah was known (Psa. lxxvii. 1), turn to a path leading to the world, to escape the trial of faith into Moab, to seek help among the uncircumcised of that country. They leave Bethlehem, "the House of Bread," to seek a portion there, without—so far as we are told—asking counsel of the Lord. They evidently had no intention of making Moab their dwelling-place, for they only went to "sojourn" there. But the Word of the Lord tells, that they "continued there" (verse 2). This is the common history of the backslider. He does not intend to become a "worldling," but once "in the world," it is not so easy to retrace his steps, for, as the Scripture says, "the backslider has to be filled with his own ways" (Prov. xiv. 14). And he has to learn, through bitter experience, that it is "an evil and a bitter thing to forsake the Lord" (Jer. ii. 17). And thus Naomi found it. For in Moab, her two sons, married Moabite wives. Soon both of these sons died, and shortly after, so did Elimelech, her husband. So she found Moab to be a graveyard. Such is ever the world, to the backslider. The shadow of death is over it all. Chastisement follows the wanderer, to cause his confession of sin, and return to the Lord, and to hear the Word that he has forgotten. And it is often after weary years, that the backslider has to be brought back to the place and the path he had left. And some, like Naomi's sons, are never brought back at all. They end their course in that world, into which they had gone, vainly seeking its aid, in the day of their distress. And the associations they have formed there, are such as must cleave to them in after years, and to those who have been led astray by their evil example. For the backslider's course does not end with himself, it follows on to generations. Sad and deeply solemn is his path, and bitter is his experience there, as thousands know too well. And it is a very solemn thought, that few, who come under the power of the world, ever get full restoration from its love, or its power. One of the saddest cases recorded in Scripture of a backsliding into the world, is that of Demas—once a fellow-labourer of the Apostle Paul, of whom it is written, "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world" (2 Tim. iv. 10). And there is no record given of his restoration. Had it taken place, surely grace would not have failed to tell us so. But when "this present world" gets its fangs round a backslider, we seldom hear of his deliverance, or his restoration. This ought to cause us to heed the warning word, "Love not the world, neither the things that, are in the world," (1 John ii. 15). Yet few of God's warning words are less heeded than these. For world-love is a form of evil so much in evidence in our time, that it is scarcely regarded as a vice, but rather esteemed as a virtue, and a "success" among many who claim to be Christians. And by some who doubtless are, but through gradual world-bordering, and love of "this present evil world," have so sunk into its ways, that they are almost or altogether unrecognizable as of the redeemed of the Lord, who have been called to be "a people for God's own possession," to "shine as luminaries in the world," holding forth "the Word of Life" to all those around them. This is true Christianity. And thus the Christian sings—
We're not of the world which fadeth away,
We're not of the night, but children of day;
The chains that once bound us, by Jesus are riven,
We're strangers on earth, and our home is in heaven.
II. NAOMI'S RETURN TO BETHLEHEM.
WHILE in the depths of her distress, Naomi hears of "Bread in Bethlehem." The Lord had visited His people in giving them bread. He may test, but He never forsakes His own, not even when they fail and wander away from Him, and from the path that He has marked out for them in His Word. There is "bread enough and to spare in the Father's house" (Luke xv. 16). This good tidings awakens the backslider and also arouses the sinner. So Naomi and her two daughters-in-law, all arise to return to "The House of Bread." But the years spent in Moab, had left their mark on Naomi. For even, in returning to the place a backslidden believer has left, the results of that backsliding still remain. For while the Lord graciously forgives the sins confessed by His people, He does not always or generally, relieve, them of their effects. It is a law of the kingdom of God, that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal. vi. 7). And others associated with him, may have to reap with him, the effects of his backslidings. And so Naomi and her widowed daughters-in-law found it. She would no doubt be glad enough to be back to the home of her early years, and to find that the Lord had "visited His people" there. But she is not the same Naomi as she had been in the days of her early life in Bethlehem. For the results of departure from God, cannot be undone suddenly, even when confession of sin and return to God has been known. The backsliding may be healed, as God has promised (Hos. xiv. 4), but the backslider's example has its effects upon others who have known it. This is manifest in Naomi's evil counsel to the two awakened widows, who start for Bethlehem with her. She raises difficulties and gives them the advice to "return to Moab, to there find rest," where she had found none. And it is solemn to think, that the aged Naomi's bad advice was used by the enemy of souls, to the misleading of Orpah. For through its effects, she was driven back to her people and her gods, to her relatives and her religion. And thus it is, that awakened, but yet unregenerate souls, are often driven back to the world and its ways, by means of the evil counsel and bad example of backslidden believers, whose company and ways they follow. Orpah wept, as she heard Naomi's words, and kissed her a last farewell, but only to return to her people, to live and to die there, for we hear no more of her. The curtain falls upon her as an awakened soul, but one halting short of a decided choice, as Robert Murray M'Cheyne wrote of one of his time, who made the same fatal choice, and returned to the world, an awakened but an unconverted soul—
"She hath chosen the world and its giddy crowd,
She hath chosen the world, and an endless shroud;
She hath launched her bark on life's troubled sea
And her all is afloat for Eternity."
It is terribly solemn, to see or to hear of young lives wasted, and souls lost to God and Christ forever, through the evil counsels and example of those who, like Naomi, ought to guide them to the Lord Jesus, and in the way of Truth. And there is much of this in our time, when a light, and flippant profession, is all that some who claim to be Christians have, but no heart decision for, or life-link with Christ. Sweet it is, to turn to the full and hearty choice and confession, of Ruth, who, in spite of evil advice, and Orpah's return to Moab, stood forth calmly and deliberately, making her choice, counting the cost, in the face of all drawbacks and difficulties. She makes her eternal choice in the seven-fold cleansing confession in the "seven togethers," as recorded in verses 16-17, which may be grouped as follows:—In the Believer's seven-fold choice and confession of Christ—(1) Dead with Christ, "Where Thou diest will I die" (Gal. ii. 20). (2) "There will I be buried " (Rom. vi. 4). (3) "Thy God shall be my God" (John xx. 17). (4) "Thy people shall be my people" (Heb. xi. 25). (5) "Where thou lodgest, I will lodge" (Isa. xci. 1). (6) "Where Thou goest, I will go" (John x. 27). (7) "Naught but death, shall part thee and me" (Col. iii. 3). Such is the wondrous oneness of the Risen and Glorified Christ, and His people here, and hereafter. And the story ends with the words, "And they two went, until they came to Bethlehem, and this at the beginning of barley harvest, the time of plenty." Little wonder that "the city was moved.'' For it was a time of joy. It always is, when backsliding souls return to God, and sinners are saved. They get a royal welcome to the courts of heaven, as they pass into the place of fulness of bread, and of rejoicing over the return of wanderers, and the new songs of newly saved sinners. For this is surely one of the great days in heaven, in which there is joy in the presence of God. And in such joy, the believer has his share. Indeed, it is the chief joy of the Triune God, in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Luke xv. 5, 10, 24) have a common share of rejoicing. And their "friends" partake of these heavenly joys, in which all heaven is continually partaking, as its inhabitants see and share that joy, in which the Godhead exalts over lost ones found, and wanderers restored to God and His joy, over their salvation and restoration. This is heaven's greatest interest in what God is doing in this world, during the present age of His Grace and of the Gospel's triumphs among the sons of men.
III.—RUTH'S NOBLE CHOICE, AND LOWLY SERVICE.
IN Chapter ii., we see in Boaz, the wealthy Bethlehemite, a bright foreshadowing of the Risen Lord, who was to become her kinsman-redeemer. In his fields, she takes the place of a lowly gleaner beside his busy reapers, who are "bringing in the sheaves." It was an ancient ordinance in Israel, that the gleanings of the field belonged to "the poor" and "the stranger." Guided by the God of Israel, Ruth takes this lowly place, and it was her "hap" to light on the fields of her yet unknown kinsman—his very own field, for it had not been "sub-let" to another, but was owned and watched over by the owner himself. And to this field she goes, and takes her place "gleaning after the reapers." Thus, Ruth goes to fill this lowly sphere, and is introduced to the wealthy owner of the field, and is graciously welcomed by him with words of goodly cheer, "Go not to glean in another field," "abide here, and when thou art athirst, go unto the vessels to drink." There are no such words of encouragement, heard from men of the world; for the way of the world is, to GET all out of its servants it can. But these are gracious words of the heavenly Master to His servants, who are willing to take the lowly place He gives them in His service. Such words are meant to draw them on into closer fellowship with Himself, and to encourage them in the service that they seek to render to Him, humble as it may be. For the Master is there with and among His reapers, and this is His joy, and their blessing. For Boaz himself is there, and Ruth is encouraged in this her earliest day in his field of service, and she is supplied from his own hand, and becomes better acquainted with him, as the hours pass on. It is surely an indication of progress in the heavenly life, when our personal acquaintance with Christ, and the soul's intimacy with Him, increases. For love of His Word and delight in His work ever go on hand in hand. And so Ruth gleaned "until the evening," and when she had beat out her day's gleanings, she had something definite to show, as the result of that first day's work in Boaz's field. For she was able to lay at Naomi's feet an "epah of winnowed barley," as the result of her day's work. And the Master's evening word of cheer to the lone gleaner was, "It hath been fully shown to me, what thou hast done." "The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou hast come to trust" (chap. ii. 12). This was truly good cheer to the lowly gleaner. And the "handfuls let fall on purpose" for her, drew her on in the gleaner's path, and brought her into closer intimacy with the "man of wealth," to whose fields she had gone as a stranger. May all here, who "belong to Christ " (Mark ix. 41), be so led on, gathering food for their own souls, fresh from the pages of His Word, and thus be brought into closer acquaintance with the person of the Lord Himself. This is the true and sure way of real progress in the "knowledge of Christ." It was such personal knowledge of Him, that the Apostle Paul greatly desired, when he uttered the words, "that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings"—although few, if any, knew Him so well. Yet his chief ambition was to "know Him " more, and become more personally acquainted with Him here. And this is the highest form of "knowledge" possible to a believer on earth, until that day, when all His people shall "know," even as they "are known." May this be our daily growing experience, as the days of earthly life speed on, and that "Eternal Glory" (1 Pet. v. 10), into which God has called all His people, becomes nearer and clearer. This is indeed true "growth in grace" (2 Pet. iii. 21), such as the living Lord desires in all His own, as they "go from strength to strength" in the heavenward journey, and grow in their personal acquaintance with Christ, in Whom they live, and into Whose likeness they grow. This is what the Apostle John desired, and prayed for, for Gaius (3 John 1), in days when spiritual health and progress in the Divine life was accounted all that is worth living for, among the people of God. A favourite hymn of earlier years, expresses this fervent desire, in words of holy purpose and longing after the Person of Christ. The words I refer to are—
"Lord Jesus, make Thyself to me
A blessed, bright reality;
More present to faith's vision keen
That any other object seen;
More dear, more intimately nigh,
Than e'en the sweetest earthly tie."
IV. RESTING AT THE FEET OF BOAZ.
AN aged and devout servant of the Lord, was in the habit of saying, "I run my Master's errands all day, and then rest at His feet at night." Busy service for the Lord, must ever be accompanied by seasons of rest with Him. For the soul requires its seasons of retirement and rest, as well as the body and the mind. And Martha-like service for the Lord, must ever be accompanied by Mary-like sitting at His feet, hearing His Word, if the inner life of the believer is to be maintained in freshness and in health. Otherwise we will become feeble and weak, from lack of that waiting on the Lord, of which both Old and New Testament Scriptures make of so much account to the people of God (Psa. lxii. 1; Isa. xlii. 31; Rom. xiii. 7). It was to a company of busy servants of His, who had been out on the Lord's service in the world, that the Divine Master spake the words, "Come ye yourselves apart, and rest awhile" (Mark vi. 31), and the words that follow, tell their need of such rest with Him, for it is recorded "they had no leisure, so much as to eat" (Mark vi. 31). To go on in service FOR the Lord, while the soul is famished from lack of quiet seasons with the Lord, in His immediate presence, listening to His voice, is what tends to spiritual weakness, and eventually leads toward departure in heart from the Lord. If a worker for the Lord, fails to get seasons with the Lord, listening to His voice (Isa. li. 4), his ministry will soon lose its freshness, and will cease to have in it the "word in season," to speak to "him that is weary." And it is this beyond all else, that causes the loss of a seasonable and uplifting ministry, and deprives God's people of what they need to keep them in "soul health" and prosperity (3 John 2), such as all who are the Lord's messengers to others, surely need. It is in these quiet hours of resting with the Lord, hearing His Word, that the soul gathers new strength for effectual service, so much needed in our time, and indeed at all times, by the Lord's servants, who are "working the work of the Lord" (1 Cor. xvi. 10).
It was while resting at the feet of her master, that Ruth heard from his lips the estimation in which he held these resting hours in His presence, and esteemed them a "kindness" (ver. 10) at her hand". And full well the spiritual soul learns the Lord's mind, and His estimate of such hours spent in communion with Him, in "the secret of His presence," delighting in Himself (Psa. xxxvii. 4).
In this Chapter, it is very pleasant to see the change that has come over Naomi too, since that day in which she counselled her two daughters-in-law to return to Moab, there to "find rest" in that land that she herself had found only a graveyard and a place of desolation. But Naomi is no longer herself a backslider from God, giving evil counsel to others. She has been restored to God, and to His land herself, and now she gives godly counsel to Ruth, saying, "Sit still, my daughter, for the man will not be in rest until he has finished the thing." These were true and seasonable words. And they tell what a truly restored soul, brought back to the Lord, and so is able to guide others into His ways, is able to counsel aright others to do. There is all this difference, surely, between the evil counsel of a backsliding soul, who is out of touch with God, and out of His path, and one that has been restored to God, able to give sound and seasonable advice as he has learned it from Himself. This was indeed here to Ruth a "word in season"—for it is what we learn in fellowship with the Lord, that becomes a blessing to others when spoken in grace, and enjoyed in one's own soul. "The man will not be in rest, until he has finished the thing," are words true of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in the fullest sense of these words. On the Cross, as our Sacrifice, He said, "It is finished" (John xix. 31), and His work of atonement is once and forever done. It will never be repeated, for by His one sacrifice (Heb. x. 14), He has purchased His people (Acts xx. 32) forever. He is now on the Father's throne, seated and waiting for the hour appointed, in which He will at the Father's pleasure, come and claim "His purchased possession," and thus so "finish the thing," by seating His people at His side, as His co-heirs in heavenly glory (Rev. iii. 21). This will be the "crowning day" for the Lord Himself, and also for His people. Both will then be satisfied; yea, "abundantly satisfied." Him, when He sees the purchase of His precious blood, and of "the travail of His soul" (Isa. liii. 11). Then, He will be satisfied. This will be the consummation of that bright and blessed hope, for which believers wait and pray, "Come, Lord Jesus," which the Spirit indwelling the Bride, unites to join in and long for. As we often sing—
"He and I in that bright glory,
One deep joy shall share,
MINE to be forever with Him,
His, that I am there."
Thus pass the waiting hours, while service in the Lord's own harvest field continues, by day, and rest at His feet by night. And surely, as the apostle says, "The night is far spent, and the day is at hand" (Rom. xiii. 12), in which harvest service will be over, and days of earthly life and toil will all be ended. Then the results of rest with Christ, and of labour for Him, will appear, and when fully manifested before His Bema, or Judgment Seat, will have their due value and results revealed, and the hidden motives, that governed them, made fully known, and the way the work was done (2 Tim. ii. 5), with the Master's estimate of all, will be manifested and "crowned" by Him, whose eyes have seen why His servants laboured in His work, and what were their motives, as well as the methods, that controlled them in it. And then shall each have his praise from God, as his work and the motives that underlay it, and the methods of doing it, have been approved by the Lord, whose servant he has been on earth, and will have the Master's approval of, and His reward for it in the day of His coming again (Rev. xxi. 12), manifested before, and unto all His redeemed and then glorified people and servants.
V. REDEMPTION AND RELATIONSHIP.
THE present Chapter tells us of Ruth, the Moabitess, once an alien and a stranger, being now redeemed from her low estate, legally and lawfully freed from her place as a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel, and as one who, to the tenth generation, was not to be received into Israel's congregation. She is now brought into an abiding relationship with Boaz, the man of wealth, who had espoused her cause, and having the right to redeem, used it, and so acquired by redemption, her person and her property, meeting all the claims of a nearer kinsman, who was unable to perform a kinsman's part (Chap, iv. 6). And the transaction was done in open court, at "the gate of the city," attested by the elders as witnesses to the legality of the whole transaction, which was duly registered in the annals of Bethlehem. And Ruth had her name enrolled in the royal line, of whom David, the royal Psalmist of Israel, came, and through him, Christ the Hope of Israel, Who is yet to become Israel's acknowledged King (see John i. 49). Boaz, thus becomes the redeemer of Ruth, and the restorer of life to the aged Naomi, whose name and lineage becomes interwoven in the illustrious line of David, and through him of David's Son and Lord, the Christ of God, the Root as also the Offspring of David (Rev. xxii. 16), Who is yet to rule over Israel as Jehovah's King. His reign is to be as "the light of the morning when the sun ariseth, a morning without clouds" (2 Sam. xxiv. 4), which is to have no evening, and whose reign will never give place to that of another. For His kingdom is to "endure as long as the sun, and His peerless Name to endure forever" (Psa. lxxii. 17), and the whole earth yet "to be filled with His glory" (verse 19). All nations will yet call Him blessed (Psa. lxvii. 19). Ruth, redeemed and raised from the lowest degradation of being a people not owned by God, but treated as outcasts and "strangers" (Eph. ii. 19), is now raised to dignity, and her name enrolled in the royal line of whom Christ came. Wondrous grace, and still more wondrous glory! To be raised from the place of "beggars on the dunghill," to inherit "the throne of glory" (1 Sam. ii. 8), in companionship with the glorified Christ, and seated with Him on His throne, even as He has been set down with the Father upon His throne (Rev. iii. 22). May the glorious prospect captivate our hearts, and cause us to cleave "to the Lord with purpose of heart" (Acts xi. 23), while we seek to walk worthy of such a Lord, as we still wait in the place of rejection with Him, until His glory is revealed. Then "the badger skin" covering of our wilderness condition will be rolled off, and the true dignity of the heavenly character, belonging to all true believers, will be manifested before wondering worlds. And the redeemed of the Lord will be owned in their full dignity and glory, as the people of God, manifested with and Christ admired in them, as they appear in the full image of the "heavenly," fully conformed to His image.
The closing chapter of this wonderful book, shows Ruth, the Moabitess, whose natural and national estate was that of an alien, unfit for the congregation of Israel, until her tenth generation, now redeemed, brought nigh, and united to Boaz, the mighty man of wealth, as co-partner of all His riches, and as sharer with Him of all His honours, having her name interwoven into the illustrious line of David's house, of which Christ the Lord of glory was to come. Thus she presents to us a fair and an expressive type of "the Bride, the Lamb's wife," of the closing chapters of the Book of Revelation, as she is described in her beauty and glory in chapter xxi. 10-11. It is well that the Divinely given description here given of her, should be cherished in the hearts of all the redeemed of the Lord, and have its character graven on the heart, waiting for that hour when that which is now the believer's Hope, will become the realized experience of al, who "belong to Christ" (Mark ix. 41), while they await the time in which "His glory shall be revealed," and they, with Him, enter on the full enjoyment of "the bright inheritance of saints," which even now is their ardent anticipation and "blessed hope" (Titus ii. 13). As Bernard, of ancient time, sang of the heavenly Jerusalem, his and our eternal home, so may our spirits respond to his glowing description given of "that fair country,'' the heaven that we call our home, and even now seek to dwell in its heavenly atmosphere and breathe its holy air. This will be the best antidote for that "worldly-mindedness" that so many deplore now, among professing Christians, who seek their portion in "this life," while their souls "cleave to the dust," and sigh after a fuller realization of heavenly things. There is "enough and to spare" in the description given of this "heavenly city," and of that "glory dwelling in Immanuel's land," as Samuel Rutherford speaks of, to win our hearts from that love of "earthly things," to which by nature we are wont to cleave, instead of the heart "bounding onward," as J. G. Bellett loved to sing, when the supreme attraction of heavenly things had won his heart, and had caused him to long to be there, amid its unsullied joys and holy environments, to which all the redeemed have equal access, and await the present joys, amid which it is their privilege to live and move even now, and nothing less will keep the heart young, and the affections warm and tender, free from the love of the world and earthly things, ever eager and ready to go, when the Lord calls, or, better still, when He comes, as He assuredly will, one fair morning (Heb. x. 37), without giving further notice of it, beyond His last word from heaven, "Surely, I come quickly" (Rev. xxii. 20). For the next we shall hear from Him, will be the gathering "shout," that will assemble all His own "together" from all lands, "unto Himself" (2 Thess. ii. 1), as the Word tells us.
"Watching and ready may we be,
As those who long their Lord to see."
Ever ready and waiting, as on the tiptoe, to hear His well-known "voice," and to "see His face" (Rev. xxii. 3). O blessed sight! And truly blessed are the people who can truthfully respond, and sing—
"I can almost hear His footfall,
On the threshold of the door,
And my heart, my heart is longing,
To be WITH Him, evermore."
We read of some who will be "ashamed before at His coming" (1 John ii. 29). Let each ask for himself to-day, "Would I be one of these, if my heavenly Lord and Lover should come to-night, and find me as I am?" Let the conscience of each believer supply an honest answer.